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Posted on September 23, 2017

Fantastic Fest: Thoroughbreds

Dawn

Thoroughbreds (USA; 2017) is written and directed by Cory Finley, his first feature film. It began life as a play, but, as Finley was writing it, he told the audience at Fantastic Fest, he realized that he was seeing parts of his story cinematically. So Thoroughbreds became a film starring Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Lily, and Olivia Cooke, who plays Amanda.

Lily and Amanda are two wealthy former friends (sort of) finishing up high school in Connecticut. They are thrust together when Amanda’s mother pays Lily to tutor her. From beginning to end, the film is about the two girls’ relationship, which flourishes under Amanda’s relentless unconventionality and honesty, as she pushes Lily to be more honest about herself. It doesn’t take long for Amanda to learn that Lily hates her stepfather (Paul Sparks). Does she have reason to hate him as much as she does? Maybe. The film goes to the brink of portraying him as abusive, possibly to Lily, possibly to Lily’s mother, but it stops short and we wonder if maybe he’s just a rather run-of-the-mill jerk. Either way, the amoral Amanda suggests an unthinkable plan to Lily, and the plot then takes a dark turn, wending its way into increasingly unexpected terrain.

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Posted on September 20, 2017

Where to Start with Silent Horror Films

Guest Post

Everyone knows the image: a bald, pale figure with impossibly long fingers rises out of his coffin. That’s of course Nosferatu, one of cinema’s great horror icons. Silent films are such a part of our culture that we can recognize so many moments from them, even if we haven’t seen a single movie. If you’ve ever wanted to check out silent horror films but were unsure of where to start, this is a list of the ten most representative films of the era. Made across two continents and two decades, these touch on everything from slashers, to the supernatural, to body horror.

As of this writing, most of these films are easily available on YouTube, but the best place to watch them is through one of their many DVD reissues. Silent films often get a bad rap simply because people don’t have access to prints that aren’t fuzzy, jumpy, and incomplete. That said, you really should watch these movies any way you can. They’re not just an educational look at how horror cinema started. They’re also scary as hell.

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Posted on September 17, 2017

Aronofsky’s Mother! Unabashed Misogyny

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This post contains spoilers; I thought about it long and hard but was unable to write about Mother! without discussing the ending.

Darren Aronofsky’s most recent film was preceded by a suitably vague trailer that quite effectively, as it turned out, disguises what his film is actually about.

And much of the film, like the trailer, is intriguing because it doesn’t give away what’s going on, what kind of film Mother! is. It trades in many horror film conventions, raising all kinds of expectations: there’s a couple isolated in a house, each with a mysterious past; there’s a house that seems itself to be sentient, alive; there are uninvited guests who quickly turn hostile (is this a home invasion film?); and there’s an uncanny pregnancy (Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby is one of the principal cinematic touchstones of Mother!). Jennifer Lawrence does a great job of playing the standard “haunted house” protagonist, especially after she becomes pregnant, a woman who may or may not be seeing what’s actually there, may or may not be experiencing hallucinations. Indeed, for much of its run-time, Mother! seems like a gothic horror film, a subgenre that is notable for featuring strong women and feminist themes.

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Posted on September 15, 2017

Horror Island: The Difference Between Scary and Spooky

Guest Post

Despite having “horror” in the title, Universal’s 1941 film Horror Island (George Waggner) isn’t particularly horrific. Sure, some people get murdered off-camera and a corpse gets shoved into knight armor, but precious few viewers—either then or now—would ever suffer nightmares from this film.

In short, Horror Island isn’t scary, but that doesn’t mean it has nothing to offer horror fans. In fact, it’s an immensely watchable hour of entertainment. Why? Because it’s spooky.

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Posted on September 1, 2017

Maniac (1934): As Crazy as It Gets

Guest Post

About halfway through Maniac (also called Sex Maniac, for no reason), a minor character gets an accidental shot of adrenaline and performs a monologue that has to be seen to be believed: “Creeping through my veins! Pouring in my blood! Oh, dash the fire in my brain! Stabbing me! Agony!” It goes on and on. The magic of 1934’s Maniac is that, despite its fifty-minute runtime, this isn’t even the craziest scene.

Is the craziest scene when the suicide victim comes back to life, licks her lips, and then is instantly forgotten by the rest of the cast? How about the cat-breeding next-door neighbor (a man in drag) complaining in total deadpan that the scientist next door keeps doing “queer” things like making too much noise and bringing dogs back to life? Perhaps it’s the big ending, which shamelessly rips off an Edgar Allan Poe story for no reason whatsoever.

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